What is Brutus's inner conflict in Act 2, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar?

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In act 2, scene 1 of Julius Caesar, Brutus is stuck in a moral dilemma, as Cassius is trying to draw him into the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. While Brutus counts Caesar as a personal friend, he also genuinely fears that Caesar poses a potential threat to Roman liberty. Thus, his personal friendship with Caesar is in conflict with what he perceives as his civic responsibility to defend the Republic.

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As act 2 of Julius Caesar begins, the audience finds Brutus torn between two conflicting loyalties. One concerns his personal feelings versus his civic duty. The other involves his vision of Rome as a republic.

A group of conspirators is trying to recruit him to kill Julius Caesar by using the arguments that Caesar’s growing power is dangerous for Rome and that assassination is the only way to stop his tyrannical ascent. Brutus is not entirely convinced, because he knows Caesar well. While he thinks it unwise for Rome to “stand under one man’s awe,” Brutus is uncertain about the extremity of the conspirators’ proposal. Because he knows and loves Caesar, he does not want him to die, much less to partake in killing him.

Brutus muses on the likely effects of increased power on Caesar if he is crowned as king. He worries that the higher position will turn his friend into a different person.

He would be crown'd:

How that might change his nature, there's the question.

Using the analogy of a snake, or adder, Brutus considers that the Romans might be doing him a disservice by crowning him. If they ”put a sting in him,” he may become too dangerous, thus harming Rome as well as himself. Even though Brutus and Caesar are very close, he fears that he cannot fully predict what that kind of power will do to a man.

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Brutus's internal conflict is already established in act 1, scene 2 when he first appears in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Here already, we see Cassius trying to draw Brutus into the conspiracy and turn him against Caesar, and here also we learn that Brutus himself counts Caesar as a friend. We learn this both from Brutus's own words—with Brutus mentioning the love he holds for Caesar—and also from Cassius himself (who speaks of Caesar's own close relationship with Brutus, a closeness he does not share with Cassius himself). But all the same, Cassius is still trying to draw Brutus into the conspiracy against Caesar, even going so far as to forge letters calling on Brutus to act.

What makes this situation so difficult for Brutus is the fact that he actually does have genuine concerns about Caesar's rise to power (and the potential threat he poses to Roman liberty), concerns that Cassius is actively leveraging against him for the purposes of manipulation. Thus, Brutus's personal friendship with Caesar is in conflict with what he views as a civic responsibility to safeguard the Republic. This has left him in a moral dilemma which must be resolved. He proceeds to side with Cassius and the conspirators, participating in the murder of Caesar.

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Act 2, Scene I, in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, finds Brutus in his gardens in the early morning of the Ides of March.  His first soliloquy explains his reasons for joining the conspiracy.

Brutus is conflicted about the entire plot and assassination.  He knows that what they are doing is wrong.  Brutus has been Caesar’s close friend. It is important to Brutus that the assassination is in the best interest of Rome.  That is Brutus' first allegiance.

From his soliloquy, the audience understands that he really does not want to kill Caesar.  He has no personal grudges against Caesar as does Cassius.  He wants what is best for the general public and the republic.  Brutus lists his logical reasoning for joining the conspiracy, most of which are based on possibilities not facts.

  1. Caesar wants to be crowned the emperor of Rome. Brutus wonders how that would change Caesar. No one knows for sure.
  2. Brutus gives three analogies to prove that Caesar might become too powerful and misuse his position:
  • A sunny, warm day brings out a poisonous snake.  This snake must be avoided or he might sting a person. If Caesar is crowned, this could [figuratively] give him the sting of the snake because the republic has given him too much power.

Brutus inserts that he has never witnessed Caesar being swayed by his emotions. He always abides by his logic and reasoning.

  • If a person climbs the ladder of success, he will have people who help him along the way. When he gets to the top, then he forgets about the ones who have given him support, he might look at the people who are beneath him and scorn them. Caesar might do this.

Then, lest he may, prevent. And, since the quarrel

Will bear no color for the thing he is,

Fashion it this, that what he is, augmented,[More powerful than he was]

Would run to these and these extremities.

  • Brutus will think of Caesar as though he were a serpent in its egg, ready to hatch. While the snake is in the egg, it is harmless. When it hatches, though, it is dangerous; therefore, he must kill the snake in the egg before it can sting anyone. He must kill Caesar before he can bring harm to Rome and its people.

Brutus has made the decision to become a conspirator and be a part of the assassination of his friend based on what Caesar might do.

Cassius and the other conspirators come to Brutus’s house to find out if Brutus will join them.  Despite his deciding to join the conspiracy, Brutus lets the audience know that he is not proud of what he going to be a part of.  He says that the conspirators should be ashamed of coming out in the middle of the night when evil is most evident. When a person is involved with a plot to kill, he has to smile and act friendly to hide the true plot. This fake behavior is abhorrent to Brutus.

It is apparent that Brutus does not think that what they are going to do is morally right. However, he has committed himself to the plan because he believes that it is in the best interest of Rome.

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